Democrats have elected Sen. Kim Elton of Juneau to serve on Senate Finance - one of the most powerful committees in the state Legislature.
The nine-member committee is dominated by seven Republicans, but this is the first time in recent memory the minority has secured more than one seat on the panel, which to a large extent decides what programs and projects are funded.
Elton is joined on Finance by Democratic Sen. Lyman Hoffman, of Bethel; they replace outgoing Sen. Al Adams, a Democrat from Kotzebue. Elton said he expects to work on Southeast transportation issues, adjustments in education funding and "long-needed" school construction projects as a committee member.
"I am eager to fill the post because the Finance Committee is the final stop in the committee process for virtually every bill, as well as all budget items, in the Senate. It's a pivotal role," Elton said in a press release.
Across the aisle, Juneau's other Democratic lawmaker did not win a seat on the House Finance Committee as she had hoped.
The House minority instead elected Rep. Beth Kerttula to a seat on House Resources, which is expected to take up several key issues, including the natural gas line and cruise ship monitoring, she said.
"We're going to definitely have more waste-monitoring issues, taxation issues, those kinds of things depending on what Congress does or doesn't do. It's looking like they're not going to do anything," said Kerttula, referring to legislation pending in Congress that would call for sampling and testing of cruise ship discharges in Alaska waters.
Kerttula also won seats on the Legislative Ethics Committee, the Community and Regional Affairs Committee and the Special Committee on Fisheries. She will serve as an alternate on Legislative Budget and Audit.
She said her first choice was a seat on House Finance, but those three openings went to Reps. John Davies of Fairbanks, Carl Moses of Unalaska, and Eric Croft of Anchorage.
"I think Finance would be everybody's top choice, but with only three seats on (House) Finance and with the seniority the way it was, I'm pleased to see I've got what I've got," Kerttula said.
She said Elton's seat on Senate Finance is a coup for Juneau because now it has two lawmakers on finance committees; House Republicans elected Rep. Bill Hudson of Juneau to a seat on House Finance earlier this month.
"We'll have an influence on Finance, particularly with Kim (Elton) and Bill (Hudson) both on Finance, that's just terrific for Juneau," Kerttula said.
Democrats also voted to keep Sen. Johnny Ellis of Anchorage as Senate minority leader and Rep. Ethan Berkowitz of Anchorage as House minority leader. Republicans control a 28-12 majority in the House and outnumber Democrats in the Senate 14-6, but Berkowitz said the minority still has some clout.
"We're outnumbered but we've got them surrounded," Berkowitz said. "We have the ability and the focus to address the need for a long-range fiscal plan and bridging the rural-urban divide."
The House minority elected Rep. Al Kookesh, an Angoon Democrat, to seats on the Judiciary Committee and Transportation Committee.